Steamboat Springs September is an ideal time to summit one of Routt County's landmark peaks, but Saturday would not have been a good day to set out for the top of Hahn's Peak. The brooding clouds were a warning of the only real danger faced on a trip to the summit.
Ideally, hikers should be seeking a cloudless morning and go for an early departure to avoid lightning danger atop the old volcano that dominates the view from the upper Elk River Valley.
Even from Hahn's Peak village, the 10,839-foot summit looks imposing and difficult to attain. The opposite is true; it's one of the easiest mountains to climb in the region. And the bald dome of Hahn's Peak offers unobstructed panoramic views with nearly all the drama of a "fourteener."
Yet, any group of reasonably fit hikers should be able to pull out of the driveway in Steamboat at 8 a.m. and be on the summit by 11:30 a.m.
The summit offers a bonus the old fire lookout tower, which is listed on the Colorado Inventory of Historical Places. The structure was originally built in 1912 and reconstructed in 1942. It hasn't been used in an official capacity since the 1950s.
On Labor Day weekend, hikers were able to use the fire lookout for its originally intended purpose; four small plumes of smoke, the remnants of the Hinman and Burn Ridge wildfires could be seen to the northeast, over the shoulder of Farwell Mountain.
The summit of Hahn's peak affords one of the best opportunities around for curious residents of Routt County who want to gain a better mental picture of where the flames consumed trees and the relationship of the fires to landmarks like "The Dome" in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness.
On that same day, the Big Fish fire could be seen blowing up in the Flat Tops, perhaps 50 miles to the south.
Hikers destined for Hahn's Peak should drive west through downtown Steamboat Springs on U.S. 40 and turn right at the last stoplight onto County Road 129 (Elk River Road).
After driving 29 miles beyond Clark and Steamboat Lake State Park, motorists will reach the old settlement of Columbine. With the general store on the driver's left, turn right onto a dirt road, Forest Road 490. Ultimately, a high-clearance vehicle is the best bet to drive all the way to the trailhead.
The road proceeds through private property, and the Forest Service asks that drivers respect the rights of the neighbors. After 1.8 miles, the road forks and Hahn's Peak hikers will want to head left. After .2 miles, take another left fork and park.
For many years, the trail to Hahn's Peak amounted to an old Jeep trail that crossed private property and was only open to foot traffic. The trail to the top was only 1.4 miles long.
Today, the route across private property is posted against trespassing, but a better foot trail has been constructed.
The new trail starts by taking hikers to the west, in the opposite direction of the peak, before mounting a ridge and making a couple of big switchbacks through the forest to the shoulder of the peak. Although it's at least a mile longer than the old route, the new trail offers a better hiking experience and affords grand views of the Little Snake River Valley to the west.
People who feel they can't make the hike to the summit have the option of climbing aboard an ATV or Jeep and take an alternative route to timberline from Hahn's Peak Village consult the Forest Service and USGS maps for the route.
The last several hundred yards of the hike offers an experience like no other; the trail runs entirely across a field of volcanic rock, neither pumice or basalt, but a field of scrabble that emits musical notes reminiscent of wind chimes as hikers' heavy boots cause them to strike one another.
Longtime Routt County locals who haven't made this trip before will wonder why they waited so long.